Whether you’re hosting guests in an RV park or setting the kids up outside so mom and dad can enjoy some privacy, you’ll need the right camping tent. Camping tents are made for different seasons and different purposes, so there’s more to consider than you might think.
Whichever tent you choose, you should also be familiar with ways to make tent camping more comfortable. Tips like “the water bottle trick” will help you avoid sleepless nights and uncomfortable mornings when tent camping.
But for now, let’s focus on how to choose the right camping tent for your RV and camping lifestyle.
Why Do You Need a Camping Tent?
There are many ways to spend a comfortable night in nature. While RVers love the added amenities of their motorhome or towable, here are some reasons you might need a camping tent as well:
- You have an RV but need additional sleeping accommodations when hosting guests.
- You’ve set up an RV base camp in order to hike and sleep in more remote locations.
- You’re just getting into car camping and need a quality tent.
- You’re exploring camping for less without investing in an RV until you know you like it.
While you can always rent an RV to explore camping, tent camping is a great entry into the world of sleeping outdoors.
How to Choose a Camping Tent
These questions will help you pick the right tent for your camping needs.
What are camping tents made of?
The most common camping tent fabrics are nylon, polyester, and cotton canvas. But different fabrics can be used in the various tent components, such as the body, the floor, and the rainfly.
When it comes to evaluating tent materials, denier count is the metric most tent manufacturers use to denote the thickness of the individual fiber threads or filaments used to create the fabric. Tents with higher-denier fabrics generally offer more durability than tents with lower-denier fabrics.
Additionally, most camping tents have mesh panels that provide ventilation, which is critical when camping in hot climates. No-see-um mesh is a variety with thinner holes that restricts the entry of pesky flying insects.
A tent with larger mesh panels will provide more ventilation to prevent condensation inside the tent. Larger mesh panels will also offer better views out of the tent when you open a vestibule.
Tent Pole Construction
The other critical component of a tent’s construction is its poles. Tent poles often determine how easy or hard it is to set up a tent and play a role in a tent’s durability. You’ll most commonly find tent poles made of aluminum or fiberglass, but some tents offer poles made of carbon fiber, steel, or composite materials.
- Aluminum tent poles are stronger and more durable than fiberglass. They are common in lightweight backpacking tents.
- Fiberglass tent poles are common in the most affordable car camping and cabin-style tents. They are heavier and fairly flexible but more likely to crack or split when stressed.
- Carbon fiber tent poles are strong and lighter than aluminum. But they are more expensive, which makes them less common in family camping tents and more common in backpacking or mountaineering tents.
- Steel tent poles are really heavy but also very strong, rigid, and cost-effective. They are generally found on heavy cabin-style or tunnel canvas tents.
- Composite tent poles take the crown over aluminum when it comes to flexibility. They flex under stress without breaking and retain the ability to return to their original shape. They are comparable to aluminum poles in terms of weight and price.
While less common, there are a growing number of inflatable camping tents on the market today. These tents utilize air beams to retain their structure and come with an air pump for easier inflation during setup and breakdown.
Who will you be camping with?
This question determines how much sleeping capacity you’ll need. A two-person tent can still be nice for car camping, even if you’re alone. A larger tent generally offers more headroom, elbow room, and space for your gear.
When you’re looking at tent dimensions, it pays to consider the height of the people you’re camping with. Typical tent floor lengths fall somewhere between 80 and 90 inches, but you’ll want a longer floor if you or anyone you’re camping with is over six feet.
And if you’re family camping, you’ll need enough room for everyone to sleep comfortably. Most camping tents advertise their interior square footage. Divide this number by the number of people that will be sleeping inside to get an estimate of how much space each person will have.
Remember that you may also need space for backpacks, lanterns, and other camp tools. And if you’re camping with kids, a tent with a divider is especially nice; it allows you to separate your sleeping space from the kids for more privacy and a better night’s sleep.
How easy is it to set up and break down?
Answering this question is easiest by addressing the differences between freestanding and non-freestanding tents. Freestanding tents will generally support their own structure whether or not you install the tent stakes.
Nonfreestanding tents require the stakes to be secured in the ground to keep the corners taut and provide the structure for the tent poles. There are various standard and proprietary tent pole designs out there, but most manufacturers categorize their tents as freestanding or not.
If you’re new to tent camping, freestanding tents are the easiest to set up and break down. If you have enough inside the tent and it’s a relatively windless day, you may also get away without securing the tent stakes, which saves you a step in setup and breakdown.
Once you set up a freestanding tent, you can also move it to your ideal location before packing your sleeping bag and camping pillow inside. However, nonfreestanding tents are more popular for experienced backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts because they are generally lighter and more compact for carrying long distances.
What weather will you be camping in?
A tent’s weather resistance has much to do with the rainfly construction. But to back up a second, a tent with a rainfly is essential if you’re camping with any possibility of inclement weather. You can always remove the rainfly if you’re camping in nice weather and want to enjoy stargazing once you lie down.
You’ll typically find tents with a full-coverage or roof-only rainfly. Full-coverage rainflies provide the maximum degree of protection from wind and rain, as well as some additional insulation. Roof-only rainflies offer some rain protection, but they are designed for fair-weather camping.
Another feature to look for in terms of weather resistance is the construction of the tent’s seams. Tent seams are the most likely locations for leaks to develop. Tents with sealed or taped seams offer more leak protection than those without.
Some tent manufacturers finish their fabrics with a durable water-repellent coating. This provides additional weatherproofing if you tend to camp in areas with a higher likelihood of precipitation.
You can also determine whether tent manufacturers have labeled their tents for 3-season, 3-4 season, or 4-season use.
- 3-season tents are made for spring, summer, and fall. They offer privacy and shelter from bugs and mild weather.
- 3-4 season tents are suitable for early spring and late fall, as well as throughout the summer. They are generally sturdier and warmer than 3-season tents.
- 4-season tents are primarily designed for inhospitable winter weather, including high winds, colder temperatures, and substantial snow loads. They usually feature rounded dome roofs to eliminate the possibility of snow collection and guy lines to provide added wind resistance. Because they are warmer than three-season models, a four-season tent is usually not well suited for use in the summer.
For most campers, a three-season tent will do the trick. But once you gain experience and start avoiding the crowds in early spring, late fall, or winter, you may need to upgrade to a more weather-resistant camping tent.
How much vestibule space do you need?
A vestibule is the covered space outside the tent’s main body. Some tents have one or multiple vestibules that can be used to protect your shoes, backpacks, and other gear from overnight weather.
The advantage of a vestibule is the ability to keep your gear covered without it taking up valuable space inside your tent. If you’re backpacking, vestibule space for your pack is essential. But if you’re car camping, vestibule space is less of a concern because you’ll be able to store excess gear in your vehicle overnight.
How much headroom do you need?
Camping tents are primarily designed for sleeping. But if you get stuck inside on a rainy day, having more headroom makes things much more comfortable. Regarding headroom, there are two tent shapes to consider: cabin-style tents and dome-style tents.
- Cabin tents offer the most headroom and overall living space. They generally feature vertical walls, and some offer room dividers to accommodate multiple private sleeping areas.
- Dome tents offer more durability and wind resistance. Some are still quite tall in the center, but the walls slope away to help with wind shedding, which also decreases the living space inside.
Cabin-style tents are better for family camping because of their expanding living spaces. But dome-style tents are recommended if you’ll be camping in less-than-ideal weather conditions.
What are the tent’s interior features?
Interior features like room dividers go a long way when you’re camping with multiple people in one large tent. But other features improve your tent camping experience as well, such as interior loops, phone storage pockets, and the number of doors.
The number of doors is a feature that often gets overlooked. But if you’re sleeping in a large tent with a single door, you could have multiple people climbing over you when nature calls in the middle of the night. In that case, having multiple doors is the difference between a rejuvenating rest and waking up groggy and sore.
In addition, storage pockets, loops for clipping carabiners, and a loft to store gear will help you keep your tent organized during your camping trip. Especially after the first night, phones, keys, and other small items can easily get lost amidst the sea of sleeping bags in family tents. Keeping these items organized in their dedicated pockets will make camp life much easier.
What Tent Accessories Do You Need?
Some camping tents include additional accessories, but some do not. Here’s a short list of tent accessories to look for when you’re shopping for camping tents:
- Tent footprint/ground cloth: Goes under your tent to protect the tent floor and provide additional moisture protection.
- Extra stakes/anchors: Different campsites may require more heavy-duty stakes or tent anchors than others.
- Tent repair kit: Stay prepared for broken tent poles, torn mesh, and other potential tent maintenance needs.
- Indoor-outdoor floor mat: Gives you a place to wipe your feet and leave shoes to minimize tracking dust and dirt inside the tent.
- Seam sealer: Reseal your tent seams if you start to notice leakage.
- Rechargeable fan: Keep cool when camping in hot weather.
Are You Ready to Upgrade from a Tent to an RV?
If you’re brand new to camping, starting out with a tent is a good idea. It allows you to explore sleeping outdoors and exploring nature while saving money and enjoying a comfortable place to sleep at night.
But a natural progression leads many tent campers to upgrade to an RV. How do you know when you’re ready to make that jump?
Here are a few reasons to consider shopping for a new or used RV:
- You’re tired of sleeping on an air mattress or thin camping pad.
- You’re tired of packing up a wet tent in the morning.
- You’re tired of unpredictable water pressure at campground showers.
- You’re sick of the questionable sanitation of campground bathroom facilities.
- You want a weatherproof cooking space.
- You want added protection from wildlife and the elements.
- You want a climate-controlled space for four-season camping.
- You want the ability to tune into your favorite movies or shows on rainy days.
If you’re ready to make the transition, here are some useful RV buying tips:
- RVs You Can Tow with your SUV
- What is the Best Small RV?
- Tips for Buying a Used RV
- Which Teardrop Camper is Right For You?
- 7 Things To Do on your RV Rental Trip if You’re Thinking of Buying
Camping World’s Personal Shopper Program is a great place to start if you’re interested in finding your RV. Our trained specialists will sort through our national RV inventory to find the perfect RV for you!
What do you look for in a camping tent? Share your experience in the comments below!
Tucker Ballister is a Technical Content Writer for Camping World and a lover of the open road. You can check out more of his adventures and outdoor advice at thebackpackguide.com.